Sunday morning was the day of my first Piedmont walk. And it was HOT. Italy is experiencing a heatwave right now. I gathered my bags and had my briefing with the Headwater team before they dropped me at my first stop. A little about the Headwater setup first. As you will have read in my last post on Piedmont, my trip to Piedmont was part of the #30activedays blogger project with Headwater Holidays. 5 bloggers were involved in Italy, France & Austria, each doing an activity holiday. Not my usual travel style, although I am keen to be more active, I love slow travel and I love to walk. Headwater make it easy, the walks are already detailed in notes and maps which they send you before you go to Italy. Every morning that you walk, the team move your bags to the next hotel, not just that, they have a wine delivery service and will pick up any wine that you buy too, delivering it to your final hotel for you to collect before …
I was in Italy this past week to walk it. Yes, I was walking in the country that is shaped like a boot. Specifically, Piedmont in the North, and its UNESCO protected vineyard terraces, castles and gorgeous hilltop towns and villages. This was quite the workout, ensuring that I earned every bite of pasta that I ate. And there was a lot to eat. And yeah, I did. Of course, I did! Italy is one of my favourite countries for food and I love the culinary education that I get with every visit. This wasn’t my first trip to Piedmont but I still discovered new pasta shapes and sauces, each enthusiastic forkful fired my brain and filled my head with ideas and plans for kitchen adventures. I love slow travel, I wish that I could do it more often. Walking, boats, trains, time by myself where I can tune out and just be. Time to get to know the place that I am visiting and soak it all in, at pace. Piedmont is perfect for this. Piedmont is rich, green …
I bumped into a friend on my flight back from Menorca recently. I was very tired and so I squinted, but no, sure enough it was Will. And he reminded me how much he loved Menorca, and how he had got married there. He visits all the time, and all I could think was, yes, of course you do. It is such a lovely place. Surprisingly so, and not because it isn’t lovely, it is, but because it feels so untainted by tourism. Aren’t all of the lovely places already very busy?
On a quiet street in Fornells in Menorca is an unassuming restaurant, Es Cranc. Es Cranc has a large menu, but most come here for the Caldereta de Langosta, a popular lobster soup from Menorca made with the native blue spiny lobsters which Es Cranc is particularly well regarded for. Caldereta gets its name from the pot that it is cooked in, a caldera. Traditionally this was a fishermans dish, cooked with the broken lobsters that they had caught. Now, it is a luxury and an indulgence, cooked at home for special occasions and at specialist restaurants like Es Cranc in Fornells. Behind a side door next to Es Cranc is a path that meanders to a room of large water baths, and these are full of spiny lobster. Spinning and weaving, large and small, these lobsters are mostly destined for the caldereta, some will be served simply grilled on their own. This is where the fishermen deliver their catch, for Es Cranc that is 5 different day boats that go out up to 7 …
I am deep in jet lag and ache in most places, but my spirits are light after 9 days on the road. I went back to Asia just 10 days after I returned from Borneo (I know, I would have stayed in between but I just didn’t have the time). It was a short intense trip as I zipped around Myanmar (aka Burma) via Singapore, to experience the food culture there. Myanmar, Burma? Well why the two names anyway, right? Which is correct? There are two theories for the Burma name, one that the British couldn’t pronounce Myanmar when they arrived in 1824 and so renamed it to Burma, the second that Burma relates closely to the name of the predominant Bamar tribe. There are 135 ethnic groups in Burma, Bamar form 68% followed by Shan at 9% so they are significant to the culture at large. Myanmar was the original name and it is the official name now so I will stick with that.
I spend a wonderful 4 days in Abruzzo earlier this year cooking and eating with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo. I was working on a recipe based project with the tourist board, and we put together a video of my trip there. Enjoy! See my previous Abruzzo post: Dispatches from Abruzzo, Italy: Cooking with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo and Where to Eat I visited Abruzzo with Visit Abruzzo to explore the region and shoot a video with them, which I will share shortly. Londoners can fly to Pescara in Abruzzo from London Stansted, or you can drive (or get a bus) from Rome.
So where were we? Oh yes, the blog turned 8, I got salmonella poisoning (separate incident!) which unfortunately is still lurking, and then I had a birthday too. A significant birthday, no guessing, lets just say it warranted a very big celebration and a long one. What better than to skip off to Borneo and spend my last day of the year before the significant one (a-hem) with orangutans, then spend my birthday itself eating laksa and satay and all sorts of other wonderful Malaysian things. Sarawak is the other Malaysian province of Borneo. You will remember that I have already been to Sabah, and I loved it. I liked Brunei a lot too. I especially fell head over heels for long haired ginger men of the forests (gasp! no, that means orangutans whose name literally translates as that). I was so lucky this time, I saw so many, which is very unusual. This is because it isn’t fruit season so they tend to come to the feeding platforms to eat.
Have you been to Abruzzo in Italy? Do you know of Abruzzo? It is surprising that given the vibrance of the region, particularly in terms of food, and that it is only a 2 hour drive from Rome, that only a few are blazing the tourist trail from outside Italy, when you compare it to other regions. Abruzzo is where Italians go on holiday and it is a gem. I visited on a whistle stop tour to shoot some video with Visit Abruzzo in the early Spring. All I could think on my return was, I wish that I had brought a bigger suitcase to bring stuff home (Abruzzo has wonderful wine, pasta, truffles and saffron, just to start), and it must not be long until I return again. Abruzzo has seaside villages, snow capped mountain top towns (with only half an hour between them), and small towns threaded by winding country roads in between. There are cities too, but they won’t overwhelm you. Pescara, where I flew into, is small, buzzing and friendly. I …
I have an unusual and very tasty recipe for you today, ripe from the shores of Grenada. Grenada is known for high quality cocoa and spice, and they meet here in this lively Coconut & Chocolate Chicken Curry. Do you consider chocolate a sweet or savoury ingredient? For me dark chocolate is intensely savoury, and a brilliant secret addition to many dishes, enhancing with a deep low rumble. It is perfect with chilli and spices, which of course Mexicans have known for a long time. Mole, a savoury Mexican dish rich with chocolate, is a superb example of this. Recently in Grenada, I had the pleasure of doing a cooking session with Esther and Omega at True Blue Bay. I cooked with them last time too. They are fun, and know exactly what to do with the vibrant ingredients available in Grenada. So many spices, and the chocolate which Grenada is rich with. This time we made a Coconut & Chocolate Curried Chicken. A small amount of chocolate enriches the spicy sauce, with the creamy …
Greetings from Grenada, a most gorgeous island tucked in the Southern Caribbean. The spice island, where the trees are rich with nutmeg, bright with cloves, heavy with cocoa pods and lined with cinnamon bark. It all sounds perfect, right?
Who doesn’t want to go to Paris in the Spring? A world away from London, and only 2 hours by Eurostar. I went recently to eat, drink, wander, and as always, to stock up my pantry with all sorts of good things.
A trip to Kyoto would be remiss without several things. While I accept that it is impossible to do everything, I have many more trips to make before I have, I will give you a starter list. You need to do a full exploration of the tea culture, including attending a tea ceremony as Kyoto is renowned for the quality of their tea and their beautiful antique pottery. You must have a kaiseki dinner and a proper Kyoto breakfast (my favourite was at Touzan at The Hyatt Regency). Finally, you cannot visit Kyoto without a visit to at least one sake brewery.
Everyone needs a bolt hole, even people who live in a city like Sydney. About three and a half hours inland from Sydney, and over the Blue Mountains, lies a gorgeous small town and wine region called Mudgee. Wine is not new here, winemakers have been active in Mudgee for over 150 years, but it is growing quickly and it is now the third largest winemaking region in New South Wales. At that, it is emerging in terms of tourism, and it is still under the radar for international visitors like you and me.
Brunei, a tiny country on the island of Borneo, surrounded by Malaysia, Sabah on one side and Sarawak on the other, is one of the worlds wealthiest countries, thanks to their plentiful supply of oil. It is also one of the smallest, with a population of 415,717, approximately 10% of the population of the small country that I hail from, Ireland. With one major city, Bandar Seri Begawan, and the rainforest beyond, Brunei makes a good stopover en route to Melbourne or other destinations, like Sabah, on the Royal Brunei flight network. But what do you do when you get there?
Yesterday, when I wrote about the Ballymaloe Lit Fest, I mentioned that I was lucky. It goes even further than that. In my small home town, curved along a small slice of the Atlantic and in the shelter of the Comeragh mountains, we have all kinds of wonderful too, and ample reasons to return.
[Photo: Maggie Beer, Yotam Ottolenghi, Darina Allen and Sami Tamimi – they were having so much fun I couldn’t get a photo of them that wasn’t slightly blurred!] I have many food related excuses to go home to Ireland, and I am clucky, for some people travel from Australia, the US, and many other places to go to one of my favourites, the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest, a smart and fun gathering of some of the worlds best food writers and chefs, who convene in a corner of East Cork to share their knowledge and to discuss pertinent matters in the world of food. The weekend is full of chat, talks and debate, there are cooking demos, and ultimately everyone ends up in the fringe festival in The Big Shed for some wine and a bit of a boogie later on.
It is St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, and I am declaring this Irish week on the blog. A national holiday in Ireland and a day of celebration of Irish culture worldwide, if you would like to hit a city where you can have a superb day and where they don’t dye the rivers or beer green, well, go to Dublin. I never did understand why people would want to drink something green (and that kind of applies to green juice too, although I have succumbed on occasion).
Can I tell you something ridiculous? I am nursing a selfie stick injury. A selfie stick injury?! Am I embarassed? Not even a tiny bit. I was always a bit snooty about selfie sticks. The first time I saw one was in the Pantheon in Rome (oooh er, but really). Two guys were perched beneath it, grinning up. I scoffed internally. What in gods name is that? I thought it a little shameless and wondered how the world had come it. I mean I just never would. Never ever.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence is a gorgeous little town, patches of land interspersed between strands of river and streams, with waterwheels, tendrils of moss hanging down, dragging themselves round. Known for a Sunday market full of antiques, food stalls and lots of randomness, I spent a lovely Sunday meandering it last weekend. I heard after that this is where Keith Floyd had an antique shop before he became a chef. I wanted every antique knife, spoon, fork and copper pan but reserved the space for chickpeas and chickpea flower purchased from a grower and a huge fat plait of stinky purple garlic. I watched rotisserie chicken spinning around, glistening with fat and saying EAT-ME, FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-GOD-EAT-ME-NOW. I wanted to, I really did and I desperately wanted to just run and grab some of the potatoes drinking all of that gorgeous chicken fat underneath, but I behaved. As much as I wanted to grab a chicken and just eat it with some bread, I also wanted to sit down and have a nice lunch. At the last minute …
Truffle hunting (oink oink, SNORT!), gooey chocolate truffles, and doing the truffle shuffle (I inadvertently have earned the right through this food writing of mine), regardless of what truffles make you think of, the fungal variety, growing underground and snuffed out by dogs and less so now, pigs, are a wonder. Rich, funky, and smelling of things that most people won’t admit to (also male pig pheremones, which is why female pigs are so good at earthing them out), they are the ultimate flavour bomb, making simple things taste amazing with the tiniest bit of work. A small chop, slice or grate will do you just fine, and they will elevate eggs, fried, scrambled or in an omelette, to one of the best dishes in the world. Buttered bread becomes something you might fight your mother for, anything simple with fat and richness (lard works great), with truffles enters a My Fair Lady sort of situation, adopting a smart accent, elegant umbrella and dress. I love a truffle.